What Is Course? Definition, Types, & Key Elements

July 13, 2023

What is course?

A course is a set of lessons or classes that a student can attend to become educated on a particular topic or learn a specific skill. This is course meaning is in an educational context. The purpose of a course is for a teacher who has expertise about something to share that expertise with others. 

An example of course is Job Killing by Dan Klein

How to pronounce course: kors

Course synonym: Class, program, curriculum, studies

The meaning of course is a sequence of events, such as a sequence of classes. 

Why are courses important for education?

Courses are important for education because they provide students with a structured game plan for accomplishing learning objectives. Trying to learn a new skill, such as a digital marketing, without following a course can be challenging because you don’t have the necessary knowledge about the topic to know where you should start and which order of topics is best for achieving a suitable understanding of the subject. Courses allow education to be provided and received in an efficient format because they utilize experts to present the material in a logical order to optimize student comprehension.

Some common course definitions related to education are:

  • What is an academic course? An academic course refers to any structured learning environment that takes place in a school, such as a high school, college, or university of higher education.
  • What is course in college? A course in college is a class that a student completes as part of a degree or diploma program from a community college, liberal arts college, or technical school. College courses can also be taken without pursuing a formal degree if a student just wants to learn more about a specific subject. 
  • What is course in university? A course in university is a class that a student completes as part of a degree or diploma program from a large academic institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate level programs. University courses typically have general education requirements and core courses pertaining to the chosen major that a student must complete in order to graduate from their chosen course of study. 
  • What is a course of study? A course of study is a student's chosen area of specialty that consists of the series of courses they must complete before graduating from their current level of education. Some examples of common courses of study include General Education, Computer Science, or English Language Studies.
  • What is course catalog? A course catalog is a collection of courses a learner can select from to meet their specific learning goals and interests. 
  • What is course schedule? Course schedule is the calendar that shows when the various course content, like lecture dates, class meeting dates, homework due dates, and assessment dates, occur. 
  • What is a required course? A required course is a class that a student must complete as part of their chosen course of study. It is mandatory for the student to successfully complete the class if they wish to graduate from the program. For example, a student pursuing a Marketing degree taking an affiliate marketing course because it's a requirement of the degree program. 
  • What is an elective course? An elective course is a class that is not part of the core aspect of the program. Instead, elective courses are classes a student can choose based on their unique interests that meet the academic credit requirements of their overall program. For example, an international student pursuing a Business degree that goes to China to study Ecommerce supply chains for a semester. 
  • What is a crash course? A crash course is a class that provides intensive instruction and information within a short period to quickly prepare a student for an upcoming event, such as learning a new skill before starting a new job. 

What is the difference between a course and a program?

The difference between a course and a program is that a course is a specific class a student must complete as part of their particular degree program while a program is the overall degree program itself and its requirements for students to graduate. 

What is the difference between a course and a class?

The difference between a course and a class is that a course is a series of classes learners must go through to complete a student learning objective, while a class is just a single meeting of the overall course, usually lasting around an hour in the university setting. Students must attend many classes in order to complete a course, as classes are smaller units that make up an overall course. Class is often used in the place of course in modern conversation. For example, you may hear, “Who is the teacher of your accounting class?”.

What is the difference between a course of study and a degree?

The difference between a course of study and a degree is that a course of study is a learner’s chosen area of specialty, while a degree is the academic award they receive for completing all the requirements of their course of study.

What are the different types of courses available?

  • Lecture course
  • Seminar course
  • Discussion section course
  • Lab course
  • Studio course
  • Training course
  • Online course

1. What is a lecture course?

A lecture course is usually a large-scale class in an auditorium-style room where a professor speaks and uses visuals like slideshows and videos to present topics while students take notes. Lecture courses in major universities can accommodate 300+ students. These lecture students are typically assessed with quizes and exams. 

2. What is a seminar course?

A seminar course is a discussion-oriented college course where students are encouraged to think critically about course topics and exchange ideas with classmates and the instructor. Seminars typically base assessment on class participation, assignments, and group projects or presentations, rather than traditional exams. 

3. What is a discussion section course?

A discussion section course is usually a smaller component of a lecture course where students break into small groups for interactive dialogue. It’s common for teaching assistants to lead discussion sections and they are equipped to help other students achieve a better comprehension of course material.

4. What is a lab course?

A lab course is class that allows students to apply key concepts of their course of study or a lecture class in a hands-on setting. Lab courses are typical of STEM majors, like biology or anatomy. They introduce students to procedures, tools and relevant methodologies that they would perform once they enter the workforce in their field. 

5. What is a studio course?

A studio course is for artistic disciplines like photography or dance, where students practice their art forms in a hands-on setting with peers and supervision from a skilled instructor. Studio courses allow students to receive constructive criticism to improve their craft. 

6. What is an independent study course?

An independent study course is when a student pursues a self-scheduled curriculum of their own devising. A student usually must first submit a proposal to receive approval and are then guided and assessed by a relevant member of the school faculty.

7. What is a training course?

Training course meaning is a series of lessons that are designed to teach you the skills and knowledge to successfully complete a particular job or activity. After completing a training course, you should be able to perform the functions you were taught in the course in the real world. Examples of training courses include CPR/first aid training, welding training, or body massage certification. 

8. What is an online course?

An online course is an education program that is presented and completed over the Internet. Online courses can be part of a degree program at an accredited university like Harvard University or just standalone training by an Internet instructor. Online courses typically consist of a combination of aspects like video recordings, interactive live training through video conference apps, digital materials like PDF guide sheets, and assignments to verify comprehension of the material. The purpose of an online course is to make education more convenient and accessible for students. 

Where can you take online courses?

You can take online courses from colleges, universities, online learning platforms like Coursera and Udemy, or from instructors' who self host their courses on their own platform. 

What is Course Hero?

Course Hero is an online learning platform where you can access course-specific study materials like study guides, practice exams, videos, and class notes that have been uploaded by previous students and educators. You can either pay a subscription to access these study materials or upload learning materials from courses you have taken to obtain access.

What are 5 key elements of a well-designed course?

  1. 1
    Defines course goals and objectives - Student learning outcomes should be clearly communicated prior to the start of the course. 
  2. 2
    Leverages high quality learning materials - The course should utilize learning materials that fit within the context of the course. Learning materials should provide up-to-date information and be easily accessible to students. 
  3. 3
    Taught by professional instructor with expertise on course subject - The teacher(s) of the course should have expert level knowledge on the course material to clearly communicate course concepts and accurately respond to student questions.
  4. 4
    Contains accountability component - In order to ensure students are keeping up with the course information and retaining concepts, there should be something to keep students accountable, such as assignments, assessments, or check-ins. Students should be able to demonstrate what they are taking away from the course learning experience.
  5. 5
    Incorporates community aspect - It’s well documented that group collaboration has major benefits on a student’s learning outcome. It forces active learning, which helps students to solidify their understanding of new concepts through critical thinking and discussion. A community aspect can be especially beneficial for an online class so that stduents can interact with classmates because it enables the sharing of ideas and common questions. 

What does course mean outside the context of education?

Course as a noun:

  1. The action of moving along a path from one point to another. Example: The airplane is on course to its destination. 
  2. The physical plane an object moves across. Example: The ball travels along the golf course. 
  3. The progression of a normal action. Example: The sickness is running its course on him. 
  4. A food dish or set of food dishes served together. Example: Tonight I will be enjoying a 3 course meal consisting of an appetizer, main course, and dessert. 

Course as a verb:

  1. A liquid moving with ease on or through a surface. Example: Blood is coursing through our veins. 
  2. To move swiftly through or over an area. Example: Yesterday he coursed through the park on his skateboard in just 10 minutes. 

Common phrases using course:

  1. Course of action - Course of action meaning is the way in which a situation is dealt with. Example: His wisest course of action is to retake the class so that he learns the material. 
  2. Of course - Used to give a confirmation. Example: Of course she knows about SEO, she does local lead generation after all. 
  3. In due course - When something is done at the appropriate time. Example: I will scale my online business in due course. 


Course is a word that has many applications in the English language. However, the use of course in an educational context is likely the most common use of the word, when not considering everyday phrases containing course, such as “of course.” Educational courses are so popular because they enable people to expand their skill set and achieve a more prosperous life. For example, this local lead generation course can teach you how to make between $500 to $3,000 in passive income each month from your computer. Local lead generation is a business model that entails building websites to attract customers for local businesses. Although it can be challenging for you to set up these websites on your own, a course can efficiently teach you the skills to start making money online from local lead generation.  

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